By Steve Czaban Special to Published Jul 20, 2005 at 5:21 AM

{image1} The 2005 World Series of Poker is finally over. Thank god for that. It took a final table "record" of over 14 hours to settle the cool $7.5 million first place prize.

The winner, Joseph Hachem - an Aussie by way of Lebanon - used a gambler's stew of cardsmanship, luck, and a "flopped 7-high straight on an all-in hand" according to the official AP "game story."

(Pssst. That's a really good phrase to remember if you get stuck at a cocktail party, and don't know a thing about poker. You drop that line, and then quietly slink away for more shrimp before your poker playing acquaintance begins bombarding you with random hands from long since completed games.)

Now, get ready to see it many times. ESPN won't stop until the tape breaks. Then they'll put in the back up copy and run it some more.

Who has heard of the guy "Chris Moneymaker" who won the 2003 WSOP? Everybody? Right. Now who has heard of the 2004 champion, Greg Raymer? Anybody? Hands? Bueller?

Yeah. That's what I thought. Apparently, ESPN is treating the 2003 WSOP like Celtics-Lakers 1985, while Raymer's win is Spurs-Nets 2003.

Hey, wait a minute. Isn't anybody else like me perplexed at how card playing became a sport? Especially before other basement-centric time-wasters like foosball, bumper pool, and darts? At least all those require some coordination!

I've got a theory and it goes something like this: Poker is a "sport" because ESPN says it is. Period, end of story. If you want "proof" then look at ESPN's Web site. It is right below soccer and horse racing and right above bass fishing and rodeo.

See? Sport.

How else do you think slack-jawed teens tearing up their kneecaps on skateboards ever became ESPY Award material? ESPN started showing it.

I can understand the appeal of "Texas hold 'em" - it's the closest thing to being a real sports star any fat, unshaven, out of work guy will ever know. Yes, they will be "famous," at least on the Amoroso level of D-list quasi-reality "celebs." And if they win it all, they can match Samaki Walker's salary for one season.

But who can really admire this collection of misfits and shut-ins that resemble the human version of the bar scene in Star Wars? The pseudo stars, the nicknames, the rampant egos, the cocky way players stack their chips with one hand.


Then you've got all the excessively inside lingo like "suiting up pocket aces." Players rattle off these saying as if they were speaking a foreign language.

And don't even get me started about guys who insist on re-telling stories about a hand they won/lost on-line/in-person last night/last week/last year. I had to suffer through such a recounting from a guy on the golf course one day, and I wanted to snap my wedge in half and drive it deep into my cochlea.

Don't get me wrong. If you like to play, and keep it all in perspective, great. I just don't have the patience for it. For starters, I know that I'll suck, and get gutted like a fish. Or, I'll play a whole lot, get somewhat good, and then what? Will I be real proud about how good I am at poker? How do you tell THAT to your mom, and feel good about it?

The truth of the matter is that to be good at "hold 'em," you have to practice, and I have no time for that. So my feeling is, why play?

Here's a snippet from a article that has almost every objectionable element to the poker craze in it.

Rogers said playing in the World Series of Poker "makes you realize how good people are getting. They watch poker on television, read books. It's just tougher and tougher."

One aspect of America's poker mania that concerns Rogers is that so many college-age people are concentrating on the game.

"Instead of going to class they're on the Internet [playing]," he said. "It reminds me of the dot-com era. I could imagine that in college this might be enticing."

(Objection: No matter how much you play, there's a college kid with Daddy's trust fund who is playing 10 times as much, and will clean you out.)

It's not just college students who have caught the poker bug, though.

Sarah Casey, 47, a Las Vegas resident who owns a window-treatment shop, was well into a poker marathon.

To get into the main event, she had to survive a satellite tournament that ended at 4:30 a.m. Thursday. After two hours of sleep, she was back at the tables by 11 a.m.

"I love poker, and I love this tournament," she said, prepared to stay up until the wee hours to advance.

And Casey wasn't overwhelmed by playing at the same table as one of the rising stars of the pro poker world, Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier of Canada. Mercier wears designer jeans, totes a designer handbag and barely sits in her seat while play unfolds.

And she is known for her aggressive playing style.

A camera crew from Canada followed her every move. And star-struck men asked for her autograph.

(Objection: Nicknames. "No Mercy" Mercier? Ugh. Men ask for her autograph? Pathetic.)

All that being said, I don't begrudge people who love to play poker. Have fun, don't be a jag-off, and try not to lose your shirt.

You may not want to quit your full time job, although I'm always reading about guys who have. This year's winner, Hachem, reportedly quit a 13-year chiropractic practice to become a "professional" poker player. God, I would have paid big money to be a fly on the wall in the Hachem family living room when he dropped that one on his wife and kids!

Sadly, Hachem is now a $7.5 million dollar idol for millions of $5 players lurking in on-line poker rooms. In other words, he's the Kevin Garnett for a whole legion of homebound poker playing Lenny Cooke's.

I understand the allure of the "sport/game" because it's competitive, involves strategy, and skill. But you gotta get the cards. No matter how cocky you are, or bluff-tastic, or what your nickname is, I repeat, you gotta get the cards.

Said Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, a well-known professional player who came in sixth in 2001 and 87th last year, "I played the six best days of poker in my life. I'm going to bed happy."

You bet, Mikie. You gave it your heart and soul. Good effort, now shower up in the locker room. It looks like the first shower you'll have had in about a week.

Steve Czaban Special to

Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.

A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.